Even before the season began Arsenal were written off. The sale of Robin van Persie to Manchester United. Last season's desperate race for Champions League qualification. Another trophy-less season. Another captain sold. 'Has Wenger lost it?'.
Arsenal had lost their talismanic leader to rivals Manchester United – the man who scored 30 goals last season and dragged the club into Champions League qualification had packed his bags and moved North to Manchester.
There was an uproar among the Arsenal supporters lamenting Arsene Wenger and Arsenal Football Club 'spineless' as they sold their best player for 'footballing reasons' to what used to be their number one rival.
But as always, the Gunners carried on marching.
Arsene Wenger had a successful summer, bringing in Spanish international Santi Cazorla, German centurion Lukas Podolski and French hitman Olivier Giroud. The former and latter – albeit the unjustified, baffling criticism towards the Frenchman – have excelled this season for Arsene Wenger's men.
The shining light this season for Arsenal has to be Santi Cazorla. The Spanish maestro has 12 goals and 7 assists in the League this season [espnfc.com] and for £16.5million from Malaga, he may be Arsenal's Players' Player as well as Fans' Player of the season.
Wenger had finally invested in experience. With 50 caps for Spain to his name – this Spain side – Cazorla has excelled in the Arsenal midfield with fellow compatriot Mikel Arteta. At 27, it may have taken him longer than others to be internationally recognized, but slowly and surely the Spaniard has earnt himself a move to a top club as well as becoming a leader.
Fellow summer signing Olivier Giroud has 16 goals in all competitions for Arsenal – 10 of which were in the league. The Frenchman took a long time to kick-start his Arsenal career – albeit expected in his debut season in the Premier League – but continues to prove his critics wrong. Perhaps not the most aesthetically pleasing Arsenal forward of recent times, the Frenchman has however spear-headed the Arsenal attack well.
Giroud was never bought in as a direct replacement for Robin van Persie, despite plenty of people believing so.
Theo Walcott - Arsenal's top goal scorer this season - was rumoured to be following a similar trend to Arsenal stars of the recent past at the start of the season. The England international was out of contract and was believed to headed out of the Arsenal door. However, a man of his word, Walcott eventually 'signed da ting' and is having his most prolific campaign to date.
With 18 goals this season and the opportunity to play a more central role in the Arsenal attack, Theo lightened the mood early on for Arsenal fan's when he penned a new three year deal. Whether you believe Theo Walcott is the sort of player that warrants a £100,000 a week contract is up to you – but Arsenal simply had to keep him.
Arsene Wenger also tied down the long-term futures of British quintet Carl Jenkinson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Kieran Gibbs. The Frenchman has signalled his intent for the future at Arsenal Football Club – similar to the olden days when the Arsenal foreign, blistering attack was supported by the rugged British backbone.
So what praise does Arsene Wenger deserve?
The Frenchman - like his club - has been written off for the past few seasons now, with even his own fans screaming 'Wenger Out' after his club fell victim to a few shock defeat's like Blackburn in the FA Cup.
Understandably, Arsenal fans aren't pleased with Wenger's ethos that Champions League qualification warrants more focus than a trophy. From the club's financial back-room the manager speaks complete sense. The money, the calibre of player that can be bought in, the global recognition, the sponsorship deals of Champions League qualification are all huge compared to an FA Cup or League Cup win.
But player's aren’t remembered for being in the Champions League year after year.
Arsene Wenger has the club in his best interests. Champions League qualification is not as holy as trophy – but in guaranteeing Champions League football, Wenger is ensuring that the club can attract the top players whilst maintaining the clubs stature as one of Europe's top footballing clubs.
For that, he deserves credit.